By: Nate Smith
When the Missouri Tigers step onto the field in Wyoming on Saturday, the Cowboys won’t be their only opponent. The elevation in Laramie is listed as a whopping 7,165 feet above sea level, nearly 2,000 feet higher than Denver, Colorado. Fortunately for the Tigers, they’ve had all off-season to plan and prepare for the challenges that War Memorial Stadium brings. Missouri Head Coach Barry Odom had a lot to say when asked about some of the difficulties the Tigers may face. “Just like if we were stepping into a game that’s gonna be 110 degrees, we talk about that. We talk about the factors, the environment, the arena we’re stepping into. More than anything, our sports medicine and nutrition department reached out in the offseason and did as many studies as they could on how to change our diet three weeks up to the game and we did that.”
As we found out from center Trystan Colon-Castillo, beet juice is one of the new additions to the team’s diet. A study completed by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in 2016 concluded that nitrates in beetroot juice can help to prevent altitude illness, by helping to relax blood vessels. Colon-Castillo might think beet juice is “disgusting” but he was quick to add that he’s all for it if it’ll help the team win.
Another way the Tigers can help combat the altitude is to rely on their depth. Coach Odom referred to two true freshman skill players in particular who would see the field despite not appearing on the official depth chart. The first is tight end Niko Hea out of St. Louis, who is expected to play ‘a lot’ on Saturday. Hea’s presence is in no way a threat to starting tight end and preseason All-American Albert Okwuegbanum, and in fact, the two could both be in together on certain plays. Sophomore Daniel Parker Jr. is listed as the backup tight end on the depth chart, but as I wrote earlier this week, there’s more to it than that when it comes to Coach Odom’s depth charts.
Another true freshman that you won’t find on the depth chart, but will field on the field is running back Anthony Watkins. Keep an eye out for when #19 enters the game Saturday as Watkins has the potential to be electric. After all, he certainly was in high school when he rushed for an eye-popping 2,601 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior. During his time at South Hills High, he played quarterback, running back, cornerback, and safety, while also returning punts and kicks. Barry Odom is well aware of Watkins’ capabilities and versatility, saying the Fort Worth, Texas native can be “a difference-maker in a lot of roles”.
The offense won’t be short on playmakers, with a loaded receiving core featuring Jonathan Nance, Jalen Knox, Johnathan Johnson, and of course Okwuegbunam at tight end. Running back Larry Roundtree will have Tyler Badie and Watkins rotating in behind him. Add all of this together and we can see that no single player will have the burden of carrying the offense for stretches. Missouri’s depth will be Coach Odom’s best friend in the altitude. With the Tigers well prepared, well-conditioned, and extremely hungry, look for some fireworks from quarterback Kelly Bryant and the Missouri offense on Saturday in Laramie, Wyoming.